A Telco Protocol Could Be Key To Cable Home Net Management

Stephane Bourque, CEO, Incognito

Stephane Bourque, CEO, Incognito

May 25, 2010 – North American cable operators may soon find themselves moving into uncharted telco tech territory as they embrace more IP-centric services and the need to configure and manage devices over premises networks.

MSOs in other parts of the world are encountering DOCSIS modems and WiMAX gateways that incorporate the device management capabilities of the Broadband Forum’s TR-069 protocol rather than relying on DOCSIS alone for these complex tasks. For example, although the media access control (MAC) mechanisms built into WiMAX are based on the DOCSIS MAC, TR-069, now a part of the over-the-air device management specifications issued by the WiMAX Forum, is commonly available in fixed wireless gateways being deployed by WiMAX providers in many parts of the world.

One bellwether as to the imminence of TR-069 as a potential premises device management mechanism for the cable industry is Incognito Software’s introduction of an Auto-Configuration Server (ACS) enhancement to its widely deployed DOCSIS-based Broadband Command Center (BCC) provisioning system. The ACS, as a component of the TR-O69 specifications, is in wide use over DSL networks, especially as IPTV providers offer whole-home integrated device management as part of their value proposition to subscribers.

Also known as the CPE Wide Area Network Management Protocol (CWMP), the specifications provide an application layer protocol for remote management of devices through the ACS. Capabilities include dynamic configuration for adjusting device functions to new enhancements or specific end user needs and monitoring functions that facilitate trouble shooting and data collection.

Incognito has integrated the ACS capability into its BCC in response to cable operators’ requests for help as they discover gateways and modems they want to deploy are designed to be configured not only through DOCSIS at the physical provisioning layer but through TR-069 at the application layer for device management, notes Incognito CEO Stephane Bourque. “Traditionally TR-069 has been used mainly for DSL providers, but now we’re seeing the protocol adopted by other types of vendors,” Bourque says.

“Operators are coming into contact with these devices, but they typically have no knowledge of the Broadband Forum and no ACS capabilities at hand,” he adds. “So they’re coming to provisioning vendors and asking what to do with devices that speak a different language. This has prodded us to create an ACS and offer it as part of a single provisioning platform through our BCC.”

TR-069 is starting to appear in DOCSIS 3.0 modems in Japan, Bourque says. And it’s starting to show up in DOCSIS-compliant customer premises equipment (CPE) designed for commercial services, where the first instances of usage in the U.S. are likely to appear.

“Commercial users expect operators to manage the configuration of their devices, so we’re seeing devices that incorporate TR-069 for this market and operator demand for the required provisioning capabilities,” Bourque says.

TR-069, adopted when the Broadband Forum was the DSL Forum, has been embraced by the Home Gateway Initiative (see Screenplays, December 2007, p. 28) and the Digital Video Broadcasting group as well as the WiMAX Forum for remote management of devices, but, until recently, it was not in wide use. IPTV and higher bandwidth over DSL enabling more sophisticated CPE devices in the home and businesses have significantly changed the pace of adoption worldwide.

“People in cable are starting to realize that TR-069 goes way beyond what DOCSIS can do when it comes to configuring and managing CPE devices,” Bourque says. “It gives manufacturers support for building new types of devices, such as surveillance systems that can be remotely managed, new types of set-top boxes and gateways.”

The Incognito BCC enhancement allows operators to provision DOCSIS at the physical layer in the usual way and then, when a device equipped for configuration via TR-069 requests activation commands from an ACS, the BCC automatically activates the processes through its ACS component. Because DOCSIS supports DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) and DHCP sets up the communication for a device to request ACS support, any DOCSIS compliant device that also is equipped with TR-069 functionality is going to ping an operator for an ACS connection and won’t work without it.

“The operator will manage the device using the manufacturer’s user interface,” Bourque explains. “If, for example, a subscriber calls the cable operator and says their phone’s not working, if it’s device related, we can see where the problem lies so that the operator can remotely get it up and running.”

As service providers seek to enhance the value of their services through whole home networking management, thereby alleviating consumers and commercial customers of the complexities of connecting and configuring their devices over the network, the robust capabilities of TR-069 are becoming important to service differentiation, especially as cable moves in the direction of adding IPTV to its broadband service portfolio.

“TR-069 is really designed to give operators access behind the residential terminal,” Bourque notes. “They can manage access points, firewalls, monitor performance, configure voice on residential gateways, set-tops, etc. – essentially everything cable operators have been wanting to do in home networking management.”